Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Power Corrupts

Corruption and sleaze in Israel has reached a new level.

In 2005 we saw numerous criminal investigations against the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, mostly involving shady financial deals and alleged bribes. Some of these investigations where stopped only because of his death. In the end, his son and closest confidant, Omri, was convicted and is facing jail time.

In 2006 we saw - among other things - the Justice Minister charged with sexual harassment, and the President under investigation for rape and of selling pardons. Rumors have it, that it only a matter of time until the President is formally charged.

Now senior officials in the Tax Department are charged with accepting bribes in order to "fix" people taxes. The affair has engulfed the Bureau Chief of the Prime Minister's office, who is currently under house arrest.

In an unrelated affair, the Finance Minister is under investigation for knowing and abetting corruption in a Labour Union he once was affiliated with.

Prime Minister Olmert himself is widely rumored to have traded influence for financial benefit, Many wonder how a career politician can afford the $2.2 million home he recently acquired in Jerusalem.

As this article in Ynet correctly points out:

"Corruption and bribery at the highest levels of the tax system jeopardize Israel’s stability even more than a Hizbullah attack.... [A]rrests of senior Tax Authority would have the most damaging effect on the citizens’ trust in the authorities and the public’s willingness to cooperate with them.

This trust, which is the foundation of every civil society, is already very fragile and is expected to become even weaker and reach the point of indifference and a search for alternatives to democracy."

I would add that this wave of corruption is not unrelated to the nearly 40 years Israeli occupation of the territories, and the ongoing wars. The attitudes of "anything goes", of "creative accounting", of "cutting corners", of "bending the rules", of "helping your friends", of "entitlement", and in many cases of outright theft, are all bread and grown in the incubator of the wild west atmosphere that exists in the army and especially within the occupation. This together with the focus on security and the external enemy, to the exclusion of dealing with social problems, quality of life, or any internal matters - other than making money - has finally lead to this sorry state.

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